Over the past few years, it’s become evident that the age-old practice of cutting a baby’s umbilical cord immediately after birth might not be the best idea. It turns out that delaying cord cutting for as little as 60 seconds has immense and long-lasting benefits for babies, including higher birth weights, lower risk of cognitive delays later in life, and increased hemoglobin levels at birth that last even throughout the first few months of life.
Incredible, right? The practice also has amazing benefits for mothers, like lowered risk of hemorrhaging after birth, which is a very big deal, since postpartum hemorrhaging is a leading cause of maternal mortality. All of these awesome findings are why major medical organizations like The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) now recommend that, for healthy babies, doctors should wait 30-60 seconds before cutting the umbilical cord.
It has been known for some time that the benefits of delayed cord clamping also extend to premature babies, but a new study from the University of Sydney is shedding some new light on this phenomenon. That study found that waiting as few as 60 seconds to cut the umbilical cords of preemies could save literally thousands of lives, which is wonderful and very welcome news.
The review, led by the University of Sydney’s research team, and soon to be published in American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, looked at 3,000 babies born before 37 weeks gestation. The researchers found clear and convincing evidence that delaying cord clamping could save the lives of one third of premature babies. Not only that, but this practice is safe for both moms and their babies.
“The review shows for the first time that simply clamping the cord 60 seconds after birth improves survival,” said William Tarnow-Mordi, senior author of the study, in a press release.
To clarify, Tarnow-Mordi specified that this recommendation would apply only to babies that don’t need immediate resuscitation. Besides saving lives, the researchers found that delayed cord clamping reduced a preemie’s need for blood transfusions after birth, and that these babies had increased hematocrit’s (iron levels), which is particularly vital for at-risk preemies.
But what’s probably most staggering is the vast number of lives this simple intervention could save.
“We estimate that for every thousand very preterm babies born more than ten weeks early, delayed clamping will save up to 100 additional lives compared with immediate clamping,” reports David Osborn, lead author of the review, and a neonatal specialist at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. “This means that, worldwide, using delayed clamping instead of immediate clamping can be expected to save between 11,000 and 100,000 additional lives every year.”
That is absolutely fantastic news. And part of what’s so amazing about it is how simple it is — and it doesn’t even require any drugs, medications, or additional equipment. It’s just a one-minute change that has the potential to do a world of good for our most fragile babies.
“This is so significant as it is such a simple technique, suitable for almost all preterm babies that helps saves lives,” says Jonathan Morris, professor at the University of Sydney.
You might know that premature babies are at a much higher risk of death than full-term babies, but you might not know just how great this risk is. To get a sense of how vulnerable the preemie population is, Roger Soll, professor at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, explains in the press release that about 15 million babies are born each year before 37 weeks — and sadly, about one million of them are likely to die.
“This procedure costs nothing and will make a difference to families worldwide,” said Soll.
As any parent of a preemie will tell you that, whatever medical state your baby is in, living through the risky period after birth is an emotionally challenging time, and that the stress of it can really take a toll. That’s why learning about simple and effective interventions like this can to be extremely reassuring for all parents of preemies.
Belinda Hutchinson, Chancellor of the University of Sydney, happens to know that struggle all too well. Her granddaughter was a preemie, and she lived through the traumatic, emotional time of uncertainty and fear that marks the lives of preemie families.
“This is a cause which is very important to me, with my own granddaughter born at 28 weeks,” says Hutchinson. “She is now a vibrant 3-year-old but I know many others don’t have such a great outcome, which is why research in this area is so vital.”
Yes, that’s for sure. Research like this can make such a significant difference — and in many cases, a lifesaving one. It’s so good to know that researchers are out there breaking new ground on this front. Let’s hope that there is more to come.